Pre-European History of Papua

Despite scant records of interaction between the people of Papua and other Indonesian ethnic groups, trade and social contacts. had already begun since the early centuries after Christ. The earliest record of the island dates back to the 8th century during the period of Sriwijaya, the first kingdom whose territory. approximately covered the whole of the present-day Indonesia, with its capital in the vicinity of present-day Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province. King Sri Indrawarman sent many gifts to the emperor of China, including some birds of paradise indigenous of Papua, which was then known as Janggi.

Five centuries later, a Chinese traveler by the name of Chau Yu Kua visited the Nusantara (the old name of for Indonesian archipelago) island of Tung-ki. Experts believe that Tung-ki was the Chinese transliteration of Janggi. He noted that the people of the island had a close relationship with the people of the Molluca Islands.

The second major archipelagic kingdom in Indonesia was Majapahit of East Java. During the reign of King Hayam Wuruk (1292-1521), many lesser kings of the archipelago came to the capital to pledge allegiance and form an alliance with the mighty king, including the kings of the Mollucas whose territory included the island of Papua. In 1365, Gajah Mada, prime minister to the court of Hayam Wuruk, commissioned a book on the history of Majapahit to the court-chronicler Prapanca. In the book titled Nagarakertagama, Prapanca wrote about places in Majapahit’s eastern territories, including Papua. Evidently, by the mid 14th century Papua was an integral part of Nusantara.

First European Contract

The first Europeans to reach Papua were Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century in search of better trade routes to the famous Spice Islands. Alvaro de Saavedra, the first European to set foot on the northern shores of Papua on his way to Mexico, was sent by the Spanish governor in Tidore in 1529. But it was another Spanish seaman, Ynigo Ortiz de Retes, who landed on the island somewhere near the mouth of the Amberno River in north Papua in 1545, who gave the island the name Nueva Guinea. The Portuguese referred to the big island in the east by the name of IIha de Papoia.

Spanish control over the eastern islands of Indonesia was short lived. After 80 years of war between Spain and Holland, a pact the so-called Peace of Munster – was concluded in 1648, by which the Dutch obtained privileges and gained complete monopoly over all the Indonesian islands. In 1663 the Spaniards was driven out of the Mollucas by the Dutch and were forced to retreat to the Philippines. From then on, the Netherlands became the dominant European power in Papua. The Pact was later reiterated and reinforced by the Agreement of Utrecht (1714) and by the Agreement of St. IIdefonso (1797).

The Dutch Colonial Period

During the18th century. Dutch control over the island was indirect, throuqh the Sultanate of Tidore, which became a Dutch vassal in 1779. The Sultanate status was later reinforced through the Netherlands Government Acts of 1814. In 1828, Dutch Commissioner A.J van Delden, in a ceremony Fort du Bus on the southern shore of the island, proclaimed it a territory of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands’ territories in the eastern islands were partly based on the sultanate’s territorial boundaries that included many parts of West Papua. Recognition of Dutch control over these islands can be found in the London Agreement (1814-1824) that concluded the war between England and Napoleon’s France. According to Article 6 of the Agreement, the British should return the eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago, including West Papua, to the Dutch. This clearly indicates that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, West Papua had been considered internationally as an integral part of the Indonesian archipelago.

However, in the early years of the 19th century, the Dutch colonial borders in West Papua were not very clear. The first efforts to draw the border of West Papua began in 1846 when the Dutch Governor General J.J. Rochussen issued a confidential decision that delineated the land boundaries of the Su!tanate of Tidore on the island.

According to the decision. the Sultanate’s eastern boundary was at 140°   east longitude in the north and 140° east longitude in the south. The boundary was later strengthened in 1895, when the Netherlands and Great Britain agreed that the Netherlands Indies eastern boundary was a line that began at 141° l’ 47″ east longitude in the south, then fullowing the Fly River basin northward until 141°   east longitude. From there it followed a straight line up to the northern shore. This was published in the Netherlands Indies’ State Gazette No. 220 and 221 of 1895. Confirmation of the boundary of Netherlands New Guinea is also found in the English Parliamentary Letters of July 1886, the “Correspondence respecting New Guinea”. Today, the line separates Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.


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